Illegal Units/In-Law Units

An "in-law unit" is an additional dwelling unit (or units) inside a property, often constructed in properties where it was originally intended to be a single family home. These units are often "illegal," particularly if they rented separately, contain unpermitted construction (like kitchenettes) and/or lack a certificate of final completion or occupancy. These in-law units, though illegal, are a significant and important part of San Francisco's rental housing supply, with the City informally estimating somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 in existence as of 2013.

Owners of illegal in-law units face a problem. Their unpermitted construction is vulnerable to Notices of Violation from the Department of Building Inspection requiring their removal, the tenancies are frequently protected by the "just cause for eviction" provision of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, and tenants of illegal in-law units can, in some cases, make arguments that they are not legally required to pay rent!

Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC can provide the solution. In some cases, illegal in-law units can be demolished or merged with the larger dwelling unit, allowing property owners to return the properties to legal use as single family homes and in many cases, thereby enjoying exemptions from certain aspects of rent control. Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC excels in representing clients through the conditional use and discretionary review hearing processes at the Planning Commission, which are required by the Planning Code whenever dwelling units are removed.

More often, in seeking to preserve existing housing stock, the City will require property owners to legalize, rather than remove, their "illegal in-law units" whenever feasible. Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC can counsel you from the initial screening process with the DBI through the obtaining of a certificate of final completion and the registration of the rental unit. Legalizing these units can add value to your property and provide you with certainty and security as a landlord.

A property owner's actions can dictate which way the City will go in terms of its permitting process, and those actions should be considered in light of the pros and cons of removing vs. preserving the in-law unit(s). In both cases, Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC can resolve the inevitable tenancy issues, including temporarily relocating tenants during any pending construction work, terminating the tenancy in the case of demolished and merged units, and minimizing your liability throughout the legalization process.

If you have an illegal in-law unit, contact Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC to discuss how we may assist you in advancing your landlord-tenant and business goals.